The inland white village of Casarabonela is set among quite breathtaking scenery of olive groves and wheat fields, with a dramatic backdrop of limestone and pine covered mountains.
There was a Roman settlement in the area, but the character and layout of the village streets are pure Moorish, winding this way and that, and lined with photogenic white washed houses, their balconies adorned with bright flowers.
The Arabs named the village ‘Qsar Bunayra’, which was an adaptation of the Roman ‘Castra Vinaria’, or wine castle. The Moors also adapted the old Roman fortress, and it was during the period of their dominance that the village took on a crucial strategic importance. It played a significant part in the uprising led by Ben Hafsun in the late 9th-early 10th century, forming part of the defensive arc around the fortress town of Bobastro, and in 922 became the centre of operations for the rebels.
From the 13th century onwards the castle was a fundamental part of the defence system against the Christian advance, but in 1485, during the final phase of the War of Granada, the fortification was definitively conquered by the Catholic Monarchs’ forces. Four towers are pretty well all that remains of the once mighty castle.
When the remaining Moriscos (Moslem converts to Christianity) were expelled in the latter half of the 16th century, Old Christians from Extremadura and other parts of Andalucía moved into Casarabonela, and it was officially recognised as a village in 1574. But in was not until 1836 that Casarabonela became a municipality in its own right.
A little sidenote in Casarabonela’s history is that Napolean Bonaparte is reported to have stayed overnight in the village while on his way to Málaga in 1810 during the War of Independence. Another historical note is that many villagers were active participants in social and political uprisings throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, but the immediate post-war history of Casarabonela was marked by depopulation as many residents emmigrated abroad in search of work, mainly to France, Germany and Switzerland.
The village’s most notable buildings are the Town Hall and the Santiago Parish Church. The latter was built in the 15th century on the site of an older mosque on the highest part of the village, close to the ruins of the Moorish castle. The building is late Gothic in style, although it has been reformed various times over the centuries.
The church has three naves and a Baroque side chapel with the image of the Virgen del Rosario, the patron saint of the village, as well as a wealth of other images and sculptures. There is also a small Museum of Sacred Art in the church, with paintings from the 18th century to modern times, sculptures, books and display cases of various pieces, including a white silver cross made in 1640, and a 19th century silver Crown of Thorns.
The other museum in the village, the Molino de Los Mizos in Calle Albaiva, is a perfectly preserved oil mill, several centuries old, which functioned up until the 1960s.
The red brick archway at the entrance to the village is much more recent, having been built just after the Civil War. There is also a perfectly preserved brick chimney in Avenida Juan XXIII, built at the beginning of the 20th century, and a monument to the early production of electricity in the area.
Adorning many of old quarter’s facades and corners are‘hornacinas’, or small shrines, most of them dedicated to Santa Cruz. The position of the 35 hornacinas is believed to be related to the separation of the Christian part of the village from the Moorish Arrabal neighbourhood.
Another nice touch to Casarabonela is the panels made of tiles created by a local ceramics workshop which have placed placed at fountains and are decorated with references to the village’s history, traditions and customs, including the Reconquest, the Moorish period, the agriculture and places of interest.
Also of interest is the 18th century Vera Cruz Hermitage on the outskirts of the village, which houses the image of the Virgen de los Rondales, and again which was built on the site of an old mosque. The hermitage is open on Saturdays between 7-7.30pm and from midday to 1pm on Sundays.
The Calvary Hermitage was built in the 19th century on the highest point on the village. There are magnificent views of the surrounding countryside from the hermitage, although for vistas of the Guadalhorce Valley, you need go no further than the Plaza de Buenavista, popularly known as ‘Los Poyos’,
There are two archaeological sites in the municipality: Roman remains at Taivilla and the remains of a Medieval settlement at Villares. The well preserved bridge at the lowest part of the village is of Roman origin, although the structure is Medieval.
Going out of the village itself on the road towards Cañete la Real, there are a number of cave houses in the areas called Cueva Bermeja and La Cueva. There are also huge rocks and caves here.